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Copyright 2001-7 by Sue Brown & Dr.
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in Chinese Artists' Eyes
John Van Nest Talmage
V. N. TALMAGE, D. D., 1847-¡¯92.
(Adapted from "Fifty Years in Amoy--the
Story of the Amoy Mission," by Rev. Philip Wilson Pitcher, 1893).
Very modestly, yet so characteristic of the writer of the "Sketch
of the Amoy Mission," China (1888), the author closes up the biographies
of those whom he called the founders of the Amoy Mission with these words:
"So there is no need in this paper to mention the names of those
As it was said of Dr. Abeel, so it could be
said of Dr. Talmage: "The crowning beauty"
of this man's life was "his humility." If Abeel
and Duty and Pohlman laid solid and deep
the foundations upon the bed-rock of sound orthodoxy, Dr. Talmage
builded no less sagaciously, strongly and solidly thereon. For nearly
the entire history of the Amoy Mission (up to 1892) he has watched and
guarded sacredly the trust committed to his care. His faithfulness and
wisdom and love are written ill indelible characters on dome and spire,
on "walls and columns, on cornice and entablature, on chancel and
nave of the structure we behold this day.
¡°When he was taken away, if it was not one of the great stones in the
foundations, surely it was one of the strong pillars of the super-structure.
Dr. Talmage was born at Somerville, N. J.,
August 18th, 1819. Consecrated to God at his birth, he was early led to
give his heart into His keeping. The name in old English used to be spelled
Tollemache, and Dr. Talmage used to jokingly
say he was a descendant of Telamachus.
"There was a pathetic scene fifty years ago in a New Jersey farm-house.
A tender, loving, Christian mother was giving warm welcome to her son,
who had just graduated from college with high honors (1842). Only a mother's
heart can realize the joy and pride she felt in her boy, who had distinguished
himself and done credit to the family name. He was her boy and inexpressibly
dear to her. What then must have been her emotions when he told her, gently
but firmly, that he had been led to consecrate his life to service for
Christ in China. China was a long way off in those days, and its people
hostile to missionaries; how could she bear to hear of her dearly beloved
son going into peril even in such a cause. 'Oh, John!' she exclaimed.
'Maternal love had its way for a moment, and then the higher nature in
her triumphed, and she said: 'I prayed to God for this, and He has answered.
How can I object?' They were brave words, which no mother could have uttered
but one in whom love of God held the highest place. They remind one of
another mother who long ago heard with joy the blessings which would come
to the world through the babe she held in her arms; but heard, too, that
'a sword should pierce through her own soul also.' With faith like that
of Abraham, she would not withhold her son when God called for him."
Graduating from New Brunswick Seminary in 1845, he immediately offered
himself to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed (Dutch) Church,
but on account of lack of finances, he was obliged to wait two years before
he was commissioned. In the meantime, he served the Middle Church of Brooklyn.
In April, 1847, he sailed away for the far off coasts of China, where
he arrived after a four months' voyage.
His life was one of ceaseless activity. "Preaching and teaching in
the theological seminary, long tours into the interior, the preparation
of books,¡± and sought by all foreigners and natives for counsel, direction
and sympathy¡ªall made his life an intensely active and useful one. Chinese
officials, the literati, merchants and common people, Europeans and Americans,
not only confided in him, respected him and loved him, but held him in
high honor for his eminent scholarship, his intellectual force and his
Christian character. His home was always opened to all comers, and all
received a kind and hospitable welcome. So whether they came seeking social
enjoyment or the solution of some vexing problem, they found just what
they sought-none ever sought in vain here. And up and down that extended
coast line of China, perhaps there was not another home so well known
He began his literary work early in his career and kept it up until the
very end. Five years after his arrival he produced a primer (pp. 30, 1852).
Next followed a first reader (pp. 17, 1853). In the same year (1853) he
also made a translation of Burn's "Version of Pilgrim's Progress."
Then followed translations of Luke¡¯s Gospel, all the Epistles to the
Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians, and the epistles general of John
and Peter. These translations were all rendered in Amoy Romanized colloquial-a
system of writing the Chinese language (in use only the past thirty years)
that has not only made it possible for old and young alike in that region
to read and write, but has done more toward the spiritual enlightenment
of that people than whole centuries of the old, but more literary, method
could or can hope to accomp1ish.
He gave his best efforts toward the development and use of this Romanized
colloquial, so all his works are in this style. Perhaps it made him appear
less scholarly, and received less applause, but it brought light and knowledge
to the very homes of thousands, who would never have had either without
this system. That was all the reputation and applause that this man sought.
He crowned his life-work (completing it at Bound Brook) with a work entitled
"The Amoy Colloquial Dictionary"¡ªa scholarly work which will
be of great service to all missionaries who may labor in that district,
as well as to the native Christians of Amoy and Formosa.
Few indeed have been permitted to see how great things God hath' wrought,
what changes have taken place, in their appointed lifetime, as was granted
unto this good man. He went to Amoy in the first bloom of manhood, and
from start to finish he threw into the work a consecrated zeal and a devoted
enthusiasm. When he arrived in Amoy there were no churches, no schools,
no Christian homes, no hospitals, and only three converts. When he left
there were 2,000 converts, seventeen churches, and as many pastors under
Presbyterian order alone, a theological seminary, a training school for
women and boys' and girls' schools and hospitals scattered throughout
In July, 1889, after a period of forty-two years of service, in consequence
of an enfeebled and broken body, he was compelled to relinquish all active
participation in his chosen work, and returned to the land of his birth,
seeking rest and strength, with the expectation of thus being able to
take up the work he so reluctantly had to leave.
Until the very last that star of hope never set. Even when he was fast
sinking into the blessed rest, the last beams of that hope were faintly
gleaming. He said then: "It seems now as though I may never get back
to Amoy." It was still only "seeming"¡ªnot a settled fact
with him. It shows how intently his heart was set on his life-work. And
if there was one unfulfilled wish in his life, it was only this, that
he might die and be buried among the people for whom he had given all¡ªhis
best. But it was not to be. His work was done, fully and well done¡ªall
At Bound Brook, N. J., on the 19th of August, 1892, he fell asleep, and
rests from his labors.
In that building in Somerville, N. J., where he was baptized and gave
his heart to God, was his body taken on August 2nd. 1892, "for the
services with which believing friends committed the precious dust to the
earth in firm hope of a glorious resurrection."
Silently, yet gloriously, his sun went down behind the hills of time,
and for many a day its splendor will adorn the skies before it has entirely
set beyond our view¡ªits memory, never.
Mrs. Abby P. (Woodruff) Talmage,
1850-'62; Mrs. Mary E. (Van Deventer) Talmage,
1864¡ª. Rev. J. S. J oralman, 1855-'58; Mrs. Martha B. (Condit.) Joralman,
This photo of the May, 2007 RCA China Missionary
Reunion (courtesy of Wendell and Renske Karsen) show that some
RCA folk are still around--and we need their help!
Otte Memorial on Gulangyu Islet
finishes with, "This stone may crumble, his bones may become dust,
but his character and deeds are imperishable.” But too many
characters and deeds will be forgotten if we
don't record them while those who remember are still with us. Please
E-mail to me stories and photos for the Amoy
Mission site (and planned book) so present and future generations
can appreciate the character and deeds of those who served in the Amoy
Bill Xiamen University MBA Center
Snail Mail: Dr. William Brown
Box 1288 Xiamen University, Xiamen, Fujian
Fujian Sites Fujian
Foto Album Xiamen
Letters New: Amoy
Last Updated: October 2007
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